older woman and man cutting vegetables in kitchen

My clients frequently ask me if meal prepping is worth all the work. Based on the number of recipes and meal plans I have shared with my clients over the years you might think a menu plan is the perfect solution to changing your diet. However, just having a meal plan may not be enough to actually get you in the kitchen!

Have you ever said to yourself…  

“I don’t have the time to shop”

“I’m too tired after work to prepare a meal”

“the last thing I want to do on my day off is spend it in the kitchen”

As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with culinary expertise I love to talk about cooking and recipes but I have found that simply talking about cooking and eating does not motivate my clients to consistently cook for themselves.

Cooking is a spectator sport

man and woman sitting on floor in kitchen watching show on computer

Since the Food Network started in 1993, people’s knowledge and passion for all things food exploded. You can learn how to cook almost anything today without actually stepping into a kitchen! But knowledge of cooking, food, & healthy eating may not lead you into your kitchen! 

For this reason you may make more progress improving your eating habits if you first ask yourself if you are really motivated to make changes NOW. The best diet plan in the world won’t help you if you are not mentally ready to start making changes.

What’s stopping you from breaking free of bad habits

chain and padlock closing a chain link fence

According to Amy Morin, contributing author to the HuffPost Blog, “Although circumstances may change in the blink of an eye, people change at a slower pace. Even motivated people who welcome change often encounter stumbling blocks that make transformation more complicated than they’d originally anticipated.”

Psychologists Carlo DiClemente and James O. Prochaska proposed that people progress though 5 stages when they are trying to change a habit. For example, initially you may not feel you have a problem and are not interested in making a change (stage 1–pre-contemplation). 

As you become aware of the pros and cons of your current patterns you may get to a point where you begin to accept that there is a problem and you decide you should make some changes (stage 2–contemplation). When you begin to develop an action plan, identify your priorities and set up a time line you are in the 3rd stage—preparation

The final 2 stages—action and maintenance, occur when the you are moving towards your goal and making the new habits part of your lifestyle. If you think you are ready to make a change, read more about how to move forward and achieve your goals.

How to motivate yourself to meal plan and prep

Jennifer Stack prepping meals in the kitchen

We are more likely to complete a task if we have confidence that we can do it. So start small and set an action plan that is so simple you know it will be super easy to complete. For example, if you frequently order take-out for dinner, rather than expecting yourself to cook an entire meal at home, prepare just a simple salad or have some carrots and hummus or other veggie snack while you wait for your meal to be delivered. Adding more vegetables can help you eat smaller portions of the take-out food which can help improve your health.

End meal prep monotony

4 Tupperware dishes with the same meal

How many times have you prepared lunches for the week but never actually ate them because you were bored with the same meal every day? Well, healthy food won’t make you healthy if you don’t eat it!

So try transforming the same boring meal into a variety of enticing options by creating simple vinaigrettes (dressings) to use as a sauce. Your vegetables, grains, beans and proteins can transport you to a new culture when they are dressed with a homemade vinaigrette. Use the recipe and chart below to infuse your meals with flavor.

Vinaigrette in a jar recipe

mason jars with herbs and spices

Makes 1/2 cup dressing

In a jar with a tight fitting lid combine 6 tablespoons oil, 2 tablespoons vinegar or citrus juice, 1 tablespoon salt free herb/spice blend, 1 teaspoon minced garlic or fresh herbs as desired, a ½ teaspoon honey, mustard, salt and pepper to taste. 

Shake vigorously to blend and drizzle over raw or cook vegetables, grains, beans, chicken, meat or fish. Try the following combinations of oil, vinegar, and seasonings to create meals with flavors from around the world.

World CuisineOilsVinegar or acidSeasonings, herbs and condiments
Mexicancanols, peanut, avocado oillime juice, white wine vinegarchiles, cumin, oregano, cilantro
Japanesepeanut oilrice wine vinegarginger, garlic, bonito flakes, dried kombu, soy sauce
Mediterraneanolive oil, yogurtred or white wine vinegar, lemon juiceonions, garlic, basil, mint, parsley, tapenade, cumin
ChineseSesame, peanut oilrice wine vinegar, orange juiceginger, garlic, onions, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, chiles

For more information on how to cook with the flavors of the world check out the “Impromptu Meal Planning” section in my cookbook The Diabetes-Friendly Kitchen 125 Recipes for Creating Healthy Meals.

If meal prep still feels intimidating to you consider Smart Meal Prep for Beginners: Recipes and Weekly Plans for Healthy, Ready-to-go Meals by dietitian Tobi Amidor. She is not kidding when she says “this handbook will walk you through every step of prep”. Once you are feeling more confident try her other meal prep cookbook for more tips. Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook: Easy and Wholesome Meals to Cook, Prep, Grab and Go

Weekly meal prep can make nourishing your body easier and more affordable. However, you must make your meals enticing enough that you actually want to eat them and keep the meal prep simple.